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Glitch in Marriage Law Plagues Singles

Most people involved welcomed the new regulation on marriage registration, which came into effect on Oct. 1 last year. They value the new convenience they bring but not everyone is happy. Some citizens who live overseas are worried about not being able to prove they are single, which can be rather an important requirement in going through foreign marriage procedures.

Mr. Chen is an overseas Chinese whose hometown is Qingtian County of Lishui City in east China's Zhejiang Province. Some 180,000 Chinese nationals from the county now live abroad. When Chen and his Chinese girlfriend applied to get married in Italy after a three-year courtship, they were required to provide documentary evidence of their single status, notarized in China. You can imagine their disappointment when they found that the notary offices in both Qingtian Country and Lishui City couldn't help.

According to the new marriage registration regulations, sub-district offices, working units or civil affairs departments are no longer responsible for issuing certificates showing single status. Without these the notary offices cannot make the necessary notarizations.

It's always difficult to prove a negative and "How can I prove I'm single?" has become the question being asked by all those who now find themselves in an awkward situation brought about by the implementation of the new marriage regulations.

Ding Hongliang, director of the Notary Office of Qingtian County, said that people used to come to his office every day for notarization of their marital status. But all this stopped on Oct. 1 last year. It is estimated that the intended marriages of nearly 100 overseas Chinese from Qingtian County are currently held up just because they can't get these notarized documents.

What's happening in Qingtian County is by no means a special case. The Zhejiang Provincial Judicial Department, which oversees notary work in the province, has received lots of similar reports since the notary offices in Zhejiang stopped notarizing marital status documents.

What's more, the problems are not just restricted to international marriages. Some other foreign activities such as going abroad to study can also require the production of notarized marital status certificates.

But why should the problems revolve around notarization? Lü Huanan, director of the notary section of the Zhejiang Provincial Judicial Department, said, "The process of notarization is a standard international practice that plays an irreplaceable role in the legal procedures of many western countries. In another words, notarized documents can be the only legally acceptable documents in these countries. However, though the departments formerly responsible for issuing marital status certificates have stopped doing this work, notary departments are not authorized to assume this role. It has caused some real difficulties."

In order to solve the problem, notary offices in the province have adopted a new approach by notarizing personal declarations. In these the individual concerned declares that he or she is single and accepts responsibility for the consequences of a false declaration. However this temporary measure though helpful is unable to properly resolve all the difficulties.

Ding Hongliang, director of the Notary Office of Qingtian County said, "This temporary accommodation has gone some way towards alleviating the problems some people are having with marriage registrations. However this form of notarization is not acceptable in many European countries. They won't recognize the documents because Chinese law does not make provision for people who make false declarations to be held responsible."

Legal experts say it is a matter of urgency to find an answer to these anomalies being experienced in the implementation of the new marriage registration regulations.
(China.org.cn by Zhang Tingting, February 16, 2004)

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